At 22, student Journalist Paris Burris has already interned at top organizations, covered President Barack Obama’s recent speech in Durant, Oklahoma, and shook hands with First Lady Michelle Obama while working in D.C.
“It’s kind of surreal and unexpected,” she said. “ I’m only 22 and I’m already getting to do things I enjoy, and that are beneficial to my career and my future.”
The OCCC alumni and former Pioneer employee is now the web editor at the University of Oklahoma’s student newspaper The Oklahoma Daily.
Burris said she knew she wanted to be a journalist at the age of 15.
“When I was a teenager, there were a million different things I considered doing but I never really found anything that I was super passionate about,” she said.
“Then I was watching this show called ‘Gilmore Girls’ [where] the main character wants to be a journalist. I had never really had heard about journalism before that … .
“So I started researching it and looking at other journalists like Christiane Amanpour, (chief international correspondent for CNN,) and I was like, ‘I want to do that.’ I’ve just never really left behind that passion.”
Burris, a senior at OU’s Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication, will graduate in May with a bachelor’s degree in journalism with an online emphasis.
Burris said her continued love of journalism stems from the importance of worldwide news and helping people be aware of what is going on.
“It takes a certain person to be able to go out and get those stories and bring them back for people to learn from and read,” she said.
“ … I love journalism. I think it’s fun. I love to write. I love to talk to people. I can’t see myself doing anything else.”
Burris said she further realized her drive for journalism through the different programs and internships in which she has taken part throughout her college career.
She has interned with the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington D.C., the Native American Journalist Association, and the Journalism Institute, also in D.C.
Burris said keeping up with school, internships, journalism programs and work requires a balance that she has aquired through experience.
She also has learned to pace herself, even if it means saying no to some things, she said.
“ … I’ve worked two or three jobs at a time but I’ve learned to cut back on that and try to do one job … [in order] to have a less stressful schedule,” she said.
“Last semester I was the news editor as well as going to school full-time. That is one of the hardest positions in the newsroom because you’re responsible for everything.
“If something goes wrong, it’s on your shoulders. At the same time, you have to worry about tests, and papers and projects so I’ve just learned my limit. I’ve learned to not take on too much.”
Burris said she also now tries to schedule her interships during the summer when she isn’t taking classes so she can focus on just that one thing.
“This summer … I had programs that I was participating in. The first one was the Journalism Institute.
“I was in D.C. for a week and … that was all I was focused on,” she said. “The following week I went back to D.C. for the NAJA fellowship and, again, I was just focused on that. It’s a really intensive training opportunity. So, during the summer, I try not to think about class.”
Burris, a member of the Chickasaw tribe, said, while in D.C., she found additional motivation by being surrounded by other Native American journalists.
“There’s a statistic that Native Americans make up .4 percent of people in journalism,” she said. “My culture and my heritage is something I try to hold onto.
“I think Native American issues are something a lot of people don’t know about or are [misinformed] about. It’s just really important to me.
“I want that to be something that I stand for … to bring more [awareness] about Native American issues, and the things that are important to me and people in my culture.”
It was because of that involvement that Burris was able to attend Obama’s speech.
“I got credentials through Native American Television [as] a freelance stringer where I got to cover [the speech]and get pictures [to send] back to them,” she said.
“That was really cool to be in the close proximity of the president and be able to put that on my résumé.”
Burris said nothing can shake her commitment.
“I knew it was going to be a lot of work,” she said. “It’s not one of those things where you get your degree and then you go get a job. It’s all about your experience and what you can bring to the table.”
Burris said starting her journalism career at the Pioneer, OCCC’s student newspaper, gave her much-needed experience.
“[The Pioneer] has been so beneficial,” she said. “I know so many people who wait until their senior year, or after they graduate, and try to get internships and they’re kind of behind the game.
“I feel like when I transferred to OU I was ready to hit the ground running.
“I’m still learning a lot. I am definitely learning every single day, but having that couple of years of experience at OCCC before coming to OU was really beneficial.”
Burris said she is looking forward to graduating and moving forward with her career although she has met with skeptics along the way.
“People will tell you journalism is dying or print journalism is dead, but if you really look at the statistics, it’s not. It’s growing in a lot of areas.
“If you’re passionate about what you do and you work hard and bring something to the table that can benefit a news organization or whoever you’re trying to work for, you’re going to get a job,” she said.
“You just have to have the drive [and] the skills. That’s why it’s important to get experience. That’s what it really takes to be successful in journalism. You just have to have that drive.”